Making a Writing Plan for the New Year

12 Jan 2013

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This is not about New Year resolutions except you are taking a decision to commence creative writing. If you are, it is the time to do so. Stop making excuses and just begin. Every novel starts with one word. But the chances are that once you start, and love what you are doing, there may be no going back.

For those of us who are already in it, this is not time to stop the addiction. You are unlikely to hear writers making a New Year resolution to quit. For all categories of writers, old and new, or even those about to immerse in the creative world of fun, what is needed is a plan for the year.

First, goals must be set. Decide on a realistic goal for your writing and build your plans for the accomplishment of the goal. Uncompleted writing projects need a plan because it is a new year that may unfold fresh challenges and demands on your time. Similarly, new projects need to be carefully planned out, starting from the preparatory work of research and outline writing, among others.

Plans are nothing if they are not implemented. And with dedication! Writing is fun, but in the Nigerian setting finding the time to sit in solitude to write could be a huge challenge. Since it has become impossible to live on writing, for most people it is done on the side. Yet, writing requires regularity for which some time, no matter how short, must be created. It is just a matter of being organized.

I have chosen this piece by Shaunna Privratsky to share because she had to write into her busy life - taking care of a disabled husband and two active teenagers and doing household chores. She wrote the following:

Making the Plan

It’s great to make goals, but in order to accomplish them you have to have a plan in place to reach them. Once you’ve decided on your main goal, write it down. Make it as specific as possible. Just saying you want to write a book someday is too vague. Planning to have a book completed, revised and submitted to a publishing company by December 31st is a specific goal.

Now break that goal down into monthly and even weekly goals. In order to finish a book in a year, how many chapters or pages do you have to write each week? Set a time-table that works for you and fits into your schedule. The more realistic you make your plan, the easier it will be to accomplish each step along the way.

Plans are great, but sometimes things happen to throw them off track. List some of the things that might derail your plans and how to overcome them. If you’ve made goals and plans in the past that failed, look for the specific reasons. Maybe you gave up after a few months because you didn’t see any results. Perhaps a goal was too hard to reach or the steps weren’t working. Figure out ways to revise your new plan.

If you are prepared ahead of time for setbacks, you can still accomplish your goals. Now when the computer breaks down for a week or the whole family is sick, you will be ready with Plan B.  When you start to accomplish your mini-goals, reward your hard work. Plan a night out with a friend or give in to a decadent dessert at your favorite coffee shop. Really reward yourself when you land that coveted assignment, or one of your short stories is accepted.

Pat yourself on the back; tell your story on the many “Brag Boards” for writers, and share your good news with your friends and families. With all the rejections, disappointments and hardships of writing, a little good news can be an excellent motivator for weeks or even months.

Support for your goals is another important tool in creating a workable plan. Whether you have a writing buddy, an online chat room for writers or a monthly writer’s group, connecting with other writers is key. They can cheer you up when you get a rejection, celebrate when your book proposal is accepted or offer helpful critiques when you’re working on your latest assignment.

Writing is a privilege, a joy and a way to connect with others. It can also be a fulfilling and financially rewarding career.

Personal Development Series

Again, we are back here. This truly is the rebirth of the much demanded series, “Who Does God Say You Are?”, which birthed in my column, “Tolling Bells” on the back page of THISDAY. The series was rested with the column, but lately there has been a demand for it.

For reasons such as the fact that the series involves writing and that writers also need personal development, a symbiosis has been found for a common existence of the two here. Many thanks to Jide Ojo, also writer, and Chief Adebowale of Ikeja, who wrote to remind me last week of my promise on the subject.

An incontrovertible point, which has served as the seed for the series, is that God gives everyone a gift at birth. And that success and even happiness depends on the discovery and utilisation of the gift. As Chief Adebowale cited, there is the example of Funke Akindele, who dumped law for acting. There is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who left pharmacy early at University. In the case of King Sunny Ade, it was an issue of endurance and belief in himself, when his first record sold only 13 copies. But the Coca-Cola drink didn’t do any better. In their first year of business, the Coca-Cola Company sold only 400 bottles of Coke.

We continue the series today with an issue I have often had to deal with myself or help others address. Distraction! Distraction from the achievement of one’s goals, which in this case is the development and maximisation of one’s God-given gift.

Distraction comes in many forms. Could be as small as a whisper or an insect; a driver looking at babes on the way; or as big as extra-marital attractions like the case of Tiger Woods. The Brother fell so badly that he has been unable to recover his magic on the golf course. Was he a victim of the weapons of mass distraction?

But clearly the most common distraction is “talk, talk” - what people say about us. It is natural for people to talk about us, even gossip about us. People must talk!

They even talk about the dead. If fact you don’t exist if people don’t talk about you. You do well at work, they will talk about you; you do badly, they sure will. Of course, they are happy to condemn you to inflate their ego.

They will shake your confidence by magnifying your real or imagined weaknesses and even set traps for you where they feel threatened by your performance – the only shining star syndrome.

They will talk! The rich talk, the poor do.  In small companies, they talk; in big, elite companies or multinationals, they do. In schools, kids do talk; in universities both students and lecturers do. Strangely, they even talk in churches and Muslim groups.

But if it is natural for people to talk and it is therefore to be expected, how does it become a distraction? It does when “talk-talk” is allowed to break our focus or worse, when it makes us puppets or people-pleasers.

Clearly, achieving meaningful and challenging targets or goals requires strong, unflagging focus and the ability to say yes and no where necessary; to be able to say no to what not to do and focus on what to do.

As if deployed by design, there are always people to talk you out of the good, and encourage bad behaviour. The reverse is also true. Albert Einstein’s Ph.D dissertation was rejected as irrelevant and fanciful by the University of Bern in 1905.  He persevered, and the result is what we know of him today. Albert is also remembered for advising his son that the only way to keep his balance on his bicycle is to keep on riding.

Handling distraction does not call for plugging one’s ears. Listening to the views of others or responding to the needs of others is a crucial part of normal social functioning. Parents will talk, insist on career or spouses. Bosses will show they are bosses, even when they can’t be bosses forever, friends and colleagues will advise us and run commentaries about what we do. Gossiping and rumours mills, fuelled by ego, must run, but based on our gifts and plans, we must have a clear view of our goals.

Worst-case scenario, as we have discussed elsewhere before, is to be dependent on human approval for our plans and actions. Welcome the people-pleasers! People-pleasers are so invested in outside approval that they set their own wants and needs aside. Yet, life is about setting goals and focusing on them without allowing humans to stop you.

People-pleasers would rather do that which would earn them approval from others, even when it wreaks havoc on their own best-laid plans.

The typical people-pleaser is someone who lacks an internal compass to gauge the value of their own actions, explains Linda Tillman, a psychologist at Emory University. “As a result, they spend their lives looking for validation from others.” It comes from fear, from an assumption that others are in control of you and they may not like you if you disappoint them. Most people-pleasers ruinously abandon their gifts!

The point here is to ensure that we are not distracted by “talk- talk.” It is even possible to avoid the talk-talk people in many cases. As a development expert, Dr. Susan Biali, has suggested:

Minimize time with them: Keep your interactions as short as possible. Minimizing your exposure to pathology goes a long, long way.

Keep it logical: Heart-centered communication only works with reasonable people who care. Unreasonable people usually don’t care, and their response (or lack of it) will often only make you more upset. So keep communications fact-based, using minimal details.

Focus on them in conversation: A way to avoid being the target of demeaning comments, manipulation or having your words twisted is to say as little as possible. Volunteer minimal information and get them talking about themselves (if you have to be around them or talk to them, that is)—they are a far safer conversation subject than you are.

Give up the dream that they will one day be the person you wish they’d be: I see this in coaching clients all the time and in myself, too. There are people in our lives who have moments where they seem to be the parent/partner/spouse/friend you’ve always felt they could be, yet they ultimately always end up hurting or disappointing us significantly. Amazingly, we fall for it and get our hopes up again the next time they treat us nicely or seem to have turned a new leaf. Giving up the hope and fully accepting this person for who they really are can be an unbelievable relief after what is sometimes a lifetime of wishing.

Don’t try to get them to see your point of view: Don’t try to explain yourself or try to get them to understand you and empathize with your perspective. They won’t, and you’ll just feel worse for trying.

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